The actual geological “ridge” indeed played a critical role in the town of Ridgeway, both in its founding and its development. The settlement of New Town came about just before the dawn of the 19th century when planters from Columbia and Charleston found the elevation provided a respite from the heat and humidity of southern summers. One of these planters, Edward Gendron Palmer, of Saint James Parish in Santee, moved into the area in 1824. In 1845 Palmer joined a consortium of cotton growers to promote a railroad from Charlotte to Charleston.
When it came time to select a route for the new Charlotte and South Carolina Railway the road followed the ridge of high land running directly through New Town and Palmer’s plantation. That “ridge way” gave the town a new name when the railroad was completed in 1850 and also spurred the growth of the town. The first telegraph in the area was completed about 1855 adding to Ridgeway’s importance during the War Between the States.
After a period of economic depression following the Civil War, Ridgeway began to develop as a commercial center serving area farmers. The town had a commercial block with ten stores by 1880. Between 1880 and 1910, when a rise is cotton production was accompanied by sustained high prices, Ridgeway entered a period of prosperity. Stores and residences were built in the popular Queen Anne and Neoclassical styles of the day. Brick was the building material of choice in the commercial district, a reflection of the prosperity of the era.
After 1910 a decrease in cotton production and prices brought the good times to a halt. In the 1930s the population of Ridgeway was 404; by 1970 it had grown only to 437. Cotton was replaced by beef cattle and plantation pines. Today the Ridgeway Historic District is significant as an example of a virtually intact turn-of-the-century town whose development was inextricably tied to agricultural prosperity. A majority of the buildings in the district were built between 1890 and 1915, the heyday of cotton production in the area.
Our walking tour will begin in a parking area near the center of town, adjacent to which is one of the more curious buildings in South Carolina...
Old Police Station
160 South Palmer Street
The original Ridgeway Police Station began life as a watering station for mules. In 1940 it was expanded just enough to house the local peacekeepers and it gained notoriety as “The World’s Smallest Police Station.” Others have sought the title but they are literally just a phone booth.
FACING THE POLICE STATION, TURN RIGHT AND WALK NORTH ON PALMER STREET.
Old Town Hall
140 South Palmer Street
This red brick building with Romanesque arches was the Town Hall when it was built in 1904. The courtroom was located upstairs and jail cells were in the back and can still be seen in the restaurant that operates in the building today. Over the years it has hosted many different businesses in addition to taking care of the town’s municipal needs.
130 South Palmer Street
Ruff Furniture is one of the oldest family businesses in South Carolina, now in its sixth generation. The business began around 1840 when David Ruff opened a general store. Eventually the hardware and furniture lines came to dominate the trade and in 2002 two Ruff brothers divided the two sides of the business into separate furniture and hardware stores. This building dates to 1900.
Ruff & Co. Hardware
165 South Palmer Street
The hardware side of the Ruff empire resides in a brick building across the street that dates to 1901. This rectangular brick commercial building has cast iron engaged pillars and wood-framed plate glass windows. It sports a corbeled brick cornice with a boxed inset. Much of the original store furnishing remains.
Ruff’s Old Store
155 South Palmer Street
This is the weatherboarded building that housed the wares of David Ruff back in 1860. Considered to be the first commercial building in Ridgeway, it is said to have been used to hide ammunition from invading Union soldiers during the War Between the States. Munitions were hidden in salt pork barrels underneath the store when CSA General P.G.T. Beauregard headquartered his troops in Ridgeway in retreat from Sherman’s army in Columbia.
Thomas Company Store (1880)
115 South Palmer Street
Built by Monroe Wilson about 1880 as the second site for Isaac Thomas’ mercantile business, this two-story rectangular brick building is marked by brick window hoods on the upper floor and a parapet with a corbeled arcade and corbeled brick brackets.
Thomas Company Store (1911)
105 South Palmer Street
The Thomas Company moved into this strikingly similar brick emporium in 1911. The front of yellow brick contrasts with the red brick used on the other three sides. The plate glass windows on the front are shaded by a flat roof hung by chains from the wall. The second story windows get their shade from a narrow pent roof supported by decorative brackets. The building was completely renovated in 2007 - note the original PHILCO sign hanging off the south end.
Daniel Walter Ruff House
120 North Palmer Street
Daniel Walter Ruff built this rambling corner house in 1904, one of the largest in town. The two and one-half stories are topped by a hipped roof with internal chimney stacks. Peeking out from the top of the facade is a single pedimented dormer with a Palladian window. The front veranda has a simple but wide entablature supported by slender, turned posts. According to local lore, one architect was so impressed by the interior floor plan that he stole the design for the J. Spann Edwards House he built in Ridgeway.
Robert Charleton Thomas House
135 North Palmer Street
This Queen Anne-style influenced house was constructed in 1906 for Robert Charleton Thomas. Its most distinctive feature is a three-story octagonal turret with diamond-shaped windows on the top story. By the street is a relic of the horse-and-buggy era - a mounting block of granite that allowed ladies to step gracefully in and out of their rides.
W. Herbert Ruff House
145 North Palmer Street
This imposing brick house was built by another member of the Ruff family about 1910. The truncated hip roof has a central shed dormer and two internal chimney stacks. The asymmetrical front entrance is shaded by a simple porch supported by slender columns.
Reid H. Brown House
155 North Palmer Street
One of the oldest houses in Ridgeway, Reid H. Brown built this charming one-story, weatherboarded residence around 1895. It reflects many details of the popular Queen Anne Victorian style with gables decorated with bargeboard trim and drop pendants and octagonal gazebo attached to the porch decorated with matching fretwork, paired colonettes and balustrades.
160 North Palmer Street
Another Ruff family residence, this weatherboarded house in rectangular in form with a low gable roof which extends to form the roof of the front porch. The roof also encompasses a large shed dormer and tow internal chimneys. The porch is supported by pillars and a simple balustrade.
J. Spann Edmunds House
165 North Palmer Street
J. Spann Edmunds, a local merchant, built this rectangular, frame weatherboard dwelling in 1906. In an arrangement seen across Ridgeway the one-story porch crosses the front and extends down one side. The porch roof is supported by colonettes with a connecting balustrade.
TURN LEFT ON THOMAS STREET. TURN LEFT ON DOGWOOD AVENUE.
Charles Wray House
Charles P. Wray, a prosperous railroad and bank official, built this two-story Neoclassical residence in 1910. It is dominated by a colossal Corinthian portico that spans the breadth of the facade. A single-story Doric portico runs behind the Corinthian portico. The house faces the historic Rockton and Rion railway around which the town was settled. The ghost of Charles Wray is thought to haunt this home in search of his wife and son. The Wray family was killed in a ferocious train accident.
Isaac Thomas House
southwest corner of Dogwood Avenue and Church Street
Merchant Isaac C. Thomas built this vernacular Victorian cottage in 1885. The house, still in the Thomas family, features a front/side porch with a balustrade, square posts with side brackets and drop pendants. The front door has multi-paned sidelights and transom.
southwest corner of Dogwood Avenue and Ruff Street
The house was built in 1853 by James Buchanan Coleman, an extensive landowner. Situated on the new Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad, which hauled freight and passengers in 1856, the Colemans’ commanding brick house became the center of social and business life in the newly developing community of Ridgeway. Near the end of the War Between The States, during February 17-19, 1865, General P.G.T. Beauregard, with Wade Hampton’s cavalry acting as rear guard, made his headquarters here, telegraphing General Robert E. Lee in Virginia news of the evacuation of Columbia, 20 miles south, before retiring to Winnsboro. Following and destroying the railroad, Union troops arrived February 21. When a commander demanded to see the owner, Coleman’s wife asked that the house be spared and it was. The Century House now serves as the Town Hall for Ridgeway.
southeast corner of Dogwood Avenue and Ruff Street
This early service statin was built by the Gulf Company in 1935, a typical concrete block commercial building.
TURN LEFT ON RUFF STREET.
James B. Team House
110 West Ruff Street
This attractive home on a prominent town corner lot was the home of Dr. James W. Team, who operated the drugstore in Ridgeway.
W.B. Kennedy House
215 South Palmer Street at northeast corner of Ruff Street
This house, dating to 1904, is distinctive by verandas on both levels that wrap around the front and side. That touch of extravagance may be from a stipulation in her father’s will that Mrs. W.B. Kennedy spend her entire inheritance at one time so she added an entire second story.
TURN LEFT ON PALMER STREET.
northwest corner of West Ruff Street and South Palmer Street
Built around 1900, this rectangular residence is the only remaining structure in Ridgeway built by the Southern Railroad.
WALK A FEW MORE STEPS TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.